A guide to useful iPhone apps in Japan

By Brody Nixon

The iPhone is a popular keitai choice for foreigners in Japan (and everywhere), and there are many apps that you can find in Apple’s App Store that will help you out during your stay here. All of these apps can be downloaded using your current iTunes account – you don’t have to go to the Japanese iTunes App Store to download these! Prices, where applicable, are shown in U.S. dollars.

Maps

Maps

This one is a no-brainer, but the Maps app that comes pre-installed on your iPhone comes in very handy in Japan. You’ll need to input most places and destinations in Japanese in order for them to come up properly in the search, but that doesn’t take long to get the hang of. In a country where very few cities are laid out in a logical grid-like pattern, and where most small streets don’t even have names, iPhone’s Maps, combined with the GPS function, can be a lifesaver. On top of that, Google Streetview is available for many large cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka (not Hiroshima yet, but here’s hoping we’ll get it soon!). It will amaze your Japanese friends, and may even save your skin on a late night out in an unknown city – it certainly has for me.

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norikae

乗換案内 (Norikae Annai) – free, by Jorudan Co., Ltd.

If you’re familiar with the Hyperdia website, this is basically the same database, in a convenient (and free!) app. With this app, you can look up train schedules and ticket prices for any train line in the country, including shinkansen and local train companies (such as the Hiroshima streetcars). You can pinpoint a specific departure place and time, search for a station and then browse through the train lines and destinations accessible from there. You can even check live updates on train delays and service interruptions (this feature, however, does not allow you to specify a place or train line, and will be most useful to people in Tokyo or Kansai, as that is where most of the advisories seem to be for). This app is Japanese only.

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AroundMe

AroundMe – free, by Tweakersoft

AroundMe uses GPS to search for things around your current location, in a variety of categories: restaurants, banks, gas stations, hotels, etc. This is one of those rare apps that was made for America, but works just as well in Japan, too. The app itself is in English, but results will be in Japanese. Results usually come up with phone numbers, which you can call directly from the app. You can even post specific places to Twitter…if that’s your thing.

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tabelog

食べログ (TabeLog) – free, by Kakukaku.com, Inc

This is the app version of tabelog.com, a Japanese web community for rating restaurants, cafes, and bars across the country. This basically works like the Restaurant search in AroundMe with three key differences. First, it’s in Japanese. Second, you can see an average rating (out of 5 stars) for each restaurant, read reviews, and see pictures where available. Third, this application is egregiously slow. If you’re standing outside a restaurant and want to check whether or not it’s any good, it would probably be faster to go in and order something than boot up this app and try to navigate to the information you want. It’s not useless, and it’s worth checking out just because it’s free, but it will test your patience.

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kotoba

Kotoba! – free, by Pierre-Phi di Costanzo

A totally dynamite, invaluable, free Japanese-English dictionary. Using the Jim Breen database that is the foundation for many online and downloadable J-E dictionaries, this one is simple and works perfectly. The search function is smart, rarely turning up strange, unwanted results. Within the entry page for a word, you can access the page for its kanji, which helpfully includes stroke order. I wouldn’t mind having a dedicated kanji lookup function, based on radicals and/or stroke number, but for a free dictionary I cannot complain about all this app offers. What’s more, the entire dictionary is contained within the app, so it doesn’t need to look up your query in the online database. This means that iPod Touch users, who don’t have regular net access, can use it anytime, too.

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kanji

Kanji Flip – $5.99, by Andre Khromov

This is a flashcard-based kanji learning program. You can select your level based on the JLPT, then go through all the kanji. After you flip over a card and check the kanji’s reading and meaning, you tell the program whether you got that one right or wrong. Based on this, the program files away ones you have already mastered, and reshuffles back into the deck ones that you still need to work on. It’s a smart system, and it works well for a lot of people…or so I hear! I lack the discipline to stick with it, but I know other people here who swear by it. For vocabulary, you can also try Japanese Flip, by the same developer, also $5.99.                                                                                             .

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TV

TV Listings – free, by Katsumi Kishikawa

In case you get the urge to turn on your TV and attempt to find something watchable on the Japanese channels, this app is here to help. Assuming you are connected to the network (sorry, iPod Touch people), it will automatically pick up your location and the time, and show you what’s being broadcast for the next few hours on all the basic channels. Depending on where you live you might not get all the channels listed, so you’ll have to decipher which ones you actually get. In addition to the name of the show, you get a full description of today’s episode, including what guests, musical acts, etc., are appearing. I know a lot of foreigners here don’t bother with Japanese TV because so much of it is rubbish, but I recommend this app nevertheless…you never know what you might find! In Japanese only. FYI, it has a rather low rating on the iTunes App Store, apparently because many of the staggeringly brilliant downloaders didn’t bother to read the description and see that it is FOR JAPAN ONLY, and gave it a poor rating based on their confusion.

gengou

Gengou Free – free, by Masayuki Akamatsu

And for the man who has everything, how about a converter between the Japanese and Gregorian calendars? If you’re looking at some ancient Japanese document, dated Meiji 37, and you’re dying to know when that really was…bust out this app, and the answer is right there – 1904! It’s one of those apps that you might not ever really need…but it couldn’t hurt to have. It’s also available as a paid app, called just “Gengou”. For 99 cents, you get basically the same app, but it covers all 247 eras in Japanese history, going all the way back to Taika 1 (A.D. 645). Both of these apps are in English.

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15 thoughts on “A guide to useful iPhone apps in Japan”

  1. You would be my hero if you knew of a way to access purikura websites on the iPhone.

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  2. Kelly, you might want to try the program Keitai Emu (it may be labeled kaitaiemu). This program allows the iPhone to connect to the Japanese mobile web network and might allow you to access the purikura webpages. What purikura webpages are you trying to access?

    Otherwise you could always just use the program STICKi PICi (http://www.stickipici.com/) and use your iPhone to make your own purikura.

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  3. Hey, great article!

    Say, have you tried any of the QR code readers? Found any you liked?

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  4. Thanks!

    I have tried several, and not found any that I liked. I think the problem is just that the iPhone’s camera is too poor to pick up the intricacies of the QR codes, regardless of which app you’re using. Given that the times when I really want a QR code reader are few and far between, I’ve basically given up on my iPhone ever having that functionality. If you’re using the new iPhone 3GS, which has a better camera, you might have more luck…but I wouldn’t get my hopes up!

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  5. Thanks, I won’t bother with them then!

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  6. I read the other day that Kotoba can even do written kanji. You have to do it through the Chinese input settings, and then you can just draw kanji with your finger. The only problem is that Chinese uses different stroke order on some things and may not understand some of your Japanese kanji. I’ve not tried this myself, but it may be helpful for some people.

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  7. Has anyone found a good study app in all Japanese? All of the ones I’ve seen have given translations in English, but I’d rather keep all of the study in the target language. Any suggestions?

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  8. I used several Japanese phrase book apps on iPhone before. Since most Japanese natives won’t speak English, its difficult to establish a two way communication with them even though you say what you want to say.

    Base on this shortcoming, I have written an iPhone app myself to tackle with this problem. Its an app that have dialogues divided by places/situations and with the anticipated responses selectable by the party that you are talking with. There is also a “sketch pad” function to jog down station name/product name etc. to help customize communication.

    The app is called “Decent Japanese Travelling Communicator”. A free lite version is also available at iTune store. I am intending to improve it. Comments are welcome if you have used it!

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id348604385?mt=8

    Zazaki

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  9. Do you download apps through the Japanese iTunes store or the US one

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  10. ceedee s:
    All the apps on this page are on the US iTunes store. Many more useful ones can be found on the Japanese store…for how to access the Japanese store, check out this simple guide:
    http://www.wideislandview.com/?p=1388

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  11. I think I’ve seen about ten different “iPhone App Guides” at my local Japanese book store. If you’re really in need of some stuff from the Japanese iTunes store you might check out one of those books (or just take a peak at them in the stores).

    For the most part you can find most things in your regular iTunes store.

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  12. why not…

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